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Major school solar project slated for completion with 6 solar arrays

Rural Renewable Engery Alliance employees Tanya Jones (left) and Anthony Fair complete solar panel installation at Pine River-Backus School in October 2018. Submitted Photo

New Energy Equity, Region Five Development Commission and Rural Renewable Energy Alliance partnered to develop six solar arrays, totaling 1.5 MW, for Pine River-Backus and Pequot Lakes school districts and Central Lakes College.

These three projects in central Minnesota are estimated to reduce each school's carbon footprint by 1,420 metric tons of carbon dioxide, while providing discounted and predictable electricity costs over the next 25 years.

The Region Five Development Commission secured $2 million through a Renewable Development Fund grant made available by Xcel Energy.

"This is an excellent example of a public-private partnership that makes a real difference to local institutions," Cheryal Hills, Region Five Development Commission's executive director and the project lead, stated in a news release. "This project helps Xcel Energy to reduce the carbon footprint of its operations and bring Minnesota closer to its renewable energy goals. The schools save money and offer new STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) educational opportunities and R5DC assists in meeting the region's economic development goals."

Construction of the largest site, Pine River-Backus, began in October 2018 and was completed in December 2018. This 800kW solar array will offset more than 80% of the district's electricity load.

The second array at Pequot Lakes is currently under construction. This 354 kW rooftop installation required significant roof upgrades and is slated for on-time completion this spring. The remaining four ground-mount systems totaling 333 kW will be built on multiple Central Lakes College campuses by May 2019.

This multi-year project has come to fruition as a result of dedicated school superintendents and a resourceful and committed project team, the release stated.

"We are happy to be part of this project. Saving money while helping to get more renewable energy built for Minnesota is great for us and our students," stated PR-B Superintendent Dave Endicott in the release. "We are very grateful for the work that R5DC, RREAL and the rest of the project team put into making this happen."

Beyond reducing each school's carbon dioxide emissions, these solar arrays will become a learning tool for each educational institution. As part of the project, curriculum is developed and provided to the schools, so students will understand the environmental and economic impacts of their school's investment in solar.

"We plan to bring students out to the array, to watch its performance from web-based tracking services and other activities to bring this project to life for our students," stated Pequot Lakes Superintendent Chris Lindholm in the release.

Matthew Hankey, president of New Energy Equity, stated this is one of the most rewarding aspects of doing projects for schools.

"Close to half of our projects at New Energy Equity have been with schools throughout Minnesota and the rest of the country. There is great curriculum readily available now for students of all ages, from elementary school to college," he stated. "This is their project in many ways. They should definitely be encouraged to learn about it."

The public is invited to attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony and presentations to celebrate this achievement 2-4:30 p.m. Sept. 26, at Pine River-Backus High School.

Project partners include Xcel Energy Renewable Development Fund, Minnesota Public Utilities, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, Region Five Development Commission, Rural Renewable Energy Alliance, REAL Solar Design-Build, Sourcewell, New Energy Equity LLC, Minnesota Power, Brainerd Public Utilities, Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative, Widseth Smith Nolting, Kandiyo Consulting and numerous local contractors.

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